Hunting dogs are high-energy dogs with a very high prey drive. If you don’t find suitable ways to channel that energy, your dog will likely find other mischievous ways to burn up this excess energy.
Giving your dog a toy is a great way to entertain them. Yes, hunting dogs can have toys also. Although there is a caveat to that, in that they should only have certain types of toys.
All of our hunting dogs are introduced to toys from a very early age. In fact, the breeders we get our pups from introduce them to toys while they are still with the dam.
Toys a Hunting Dog Can Have
There are good toys and bad toys for hunting dogs, and it’s important to know the difference and the effects that they can have on your dog.
For a normal household dog, most owners don’t think about what toys their pet can have. But a hunting dog is more than just a pet, it is a partner with a job at hand, and it’s our responsibility to teach him to do that to the best of his ability.
This is where appropriate toys come in. The right toys can aid your pup in its hunting instincts and keep him entertained in later years.
One of the most important things a good hunting dog needs is a soft mouth. This is to be able to retrieve a bird gently without damaging it.
Toys suitable for promoting a healthy mouth:
Although there is a lighter version of this, the one we really like is the extreme version.
This one is made for serious chewers. Your dog won’t be getting any bits off this and will not develop any bad habits.
If you want to make it more entertaining for your dog, the hollow center allows some treats to go inside.
Kong Extreme Ball
The Kong Extreme Ball is one of the most robust toy balls we could find. This ball is puncture-resistant and has a hefty bounce.
This toy is suitable for outdoor sports due to its weight and is ideal for power chewers. It is made of “extreme” super tough rubber.
It comes in few sizes, but the big size we choose for our dogs is perfect for their mouths for one simple reason; they can’t get it in the back of their jaws to nibble on it.
Sometimes nothing can beat a good ole bone. Dogs have been eating bones for eons now.
My dogs get bones regularly; sometimes, they will just get the bones from whatever I have hunted, like a deer or moose. Other times they will get bones like a roasted marrow bone.
These really keep them busy for hours while they try to get all the marrow out. I like that they are all-natural and not treated with any chemicals.
Kong Goodie Bone
This is another stellar product from Kong. What I like most about this product and all of the products from Kong are how durable they are.
If your dog prefers to chew on an elongated or bone shape toy rather than a round one, this is the answer to your needs.
The Kong Goodie Bone from Kong is one of the best ways to keep your dog occupied when they have nothing else to do. The toy has two sides: One side has treats that can’t fall out, and the other side has holes where treats can come out as your pup chews it.
Nylabone Chew Ring
This is a great toy for larger dogs with strong, healthy teeth. Nylabone claim this product is built to last and withstand even the most aggressive chewers.
The ring-shaped textured surface is designed to promote oral health by gently rubbing off plaque while being chewed.
What your dog will love even more about this is it comes in various flavors.
Toys a Hunting Dog Shouldn’t Have
As we mentioned earlier, we are trying to prevent the dog from getting a hard mouth. Certain toys tend to promote hard mouths in dogs.
Toys that squeak are usually a primary suspect behind hard mouths. When the dog bites down, he hears the squeak, which gets the dog excited, so he bites down again harder and faster.
Soft or plush toys also usually cause negative behaviors in hunting dogs. These types of toys encourage the dog to be mouthy. They typically like to get these at their back teeth and chomp on them.
Once they rip the toy, they like to pull the stuffing out. I’d be very disappointed if my dog retrieved a bird to me with its innards pulled out.
How to Entertain a Hunting Dog
Hunting dogs need more stimulation than your average household dog. These dogs need to be at their sharpest to be successful in the field.
Finding ways to entertain your dog that stimulate him mentally will benefit you both greatly. The dog will be rewarded with attention, while you will be rewarded with an excellent field companion.
A solid training schedule is one way to keep them occupied. Other than that, I like taking my dogs for a run with me; they really like this addition to their daily walks, as they get to blow off some steam.
In the warmer weather, my dogs love nothing more than to go swimming with me. It’s great for cooling them off and one of the best forms of exercise for conditioning their muscles.
Games are a great way to get your dog thinking and working outside of hunting season. However, while certain games may be hugely beneficial, others may be quite the opposite.
Games You Should Play
This is one of our favorites to play. You can do this inside or outside or just about anywhere.
One method is to take your dog’s favorite toy or a treat and hide it. This put’s your dog’s nose and witts to use. Sometimes I like to drag the toy or treat along the ground to give the dog a scent to work with. It’s just like being out on a hunt.
Hide and seek
I like to play this around the house or when out on a walk. To do this, I will get my dog to stay while I go hide. I must admit I feel like a big child, but my dogs love it, and it’s great fun. It also encourages desirable traits in your dog. They put their nose to great use, learn how to be steady in a blind, and develop a healthy recall.
This will be obviously a no-brainer for retriever owners. I like to mix it up a little bit, though.
Sometimes I like to put the dummy just up out of reach where it will require them to put a bit of effort to get to it.
My Chessie is a water fanatic like most Chessies, so for her, I like to introduce water to our fetching. One of her favorites is diving. I have a heavyweight bumper that I like to put at the edge of a clear pond we swim in.
Without hesitation, she dives right in to get it. If the water is too dirty, she will use her feet to locate it before dunking her head in.
It’s important to remember to dry their ears out afterward if they are going to be diving.
Another great option for burning off steam is dog carting. This is an activity dogs’ have been doing for years.
However, it is a strenuous activity, and your dog will need plenty of rest after.
To play this, you will need a good-quality harness and a cart. After that, it’s just like dog sledding on land.
It’s a good idea to start out slow and let your dog get accustomed to this activity and build up the required muscles.
Games a Hunting Dog Shouldn’t Play
Tug of War
This type of game encourages bad behavior in a hunting dog. Most notably, it can encourage your dog to develop a hard mouth.
The dog becomes possessive of the toy, and as you’re pulling on it, he will bite down harder, in some instances putting his whole body weight behind it.
It’s hard to separate this play behavior from work behavior when the time comes, so it’s better not to engage in these types of games from the start.
Keep away is another game we don’t like to play with our hunting dogs. Not that it will develop a hard mouth, but rather it will develop a poor recall.
We look for our dogs to be precise and actionable with their retrieve. We want the dog to go straight to the marked bird, pick it up and return it directly to hand without any wandering.
Keep away can encourage this wandering behavior that we don’t want.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways to entertain your gundog and plenty of toys for them to play with.
We do encourage you to watch your dogs when they play with toys, both from a safety point of view and a training point of view, to make sure they aren’t developing any bad habits.